Vintage Pocket Watch Inscriptions Guide

Antique pocket watches often delight us with their beautiful engraved lids and mysterious, intricate old inscriptions. Pocket watches look particularly interesting when they have a signature, inscription, emblem or dedication, and historically craftsmen have spared no effort in creating beautiful fonts with monograms and flourishes. For the uninitiated, inscriptions usually look like complete gibberish, but are in reality quite easy to decipher. It takes a bit of time to learn how to read the ornate, antique fonts, but the guide below will give examples that will help you to understand most of them and help you to define what they mean.

In this article, we are not talking about a gift or prize engravings dedicated to a particular individual. Traditionally, during production, details of the inner workings of the movement, information about the manufacturer, and the serial number, were engraved on the lid of the watch. In this article we consider these manufactory originated designations.

Typical examples are pictured below:

Manufacturer Inscriptions and Exhibition Awards

  • Geneve; Locle; Neuchatel; Chaux-de-Fonds; Suisse etc.

Place of manufacture; registered location of watch company. The manufacturer could be Swiss, and the inscription German, English, or Russian, according to the name and city of the importing company.

Medals engraved on the lid indicate that the watch was given an award at an exhibition, with the city and year during which it took place detailed on the medal. If the city and year is absent, then the award may be a fake. Some cheap watches were decorated with fake medals by their manufacturers, which usually come in the form of round badges adorned with some sort of abstract emblem or head.

Medaille d’or’ – The watch was exhibited and received a gold medal.

‘Diplôme d’honneur’ – The watch was exhibited and received an honorary diploma.

‘Paris 1896’ – Location of exhibition and the year it was held.

‘Grand Prix’ – Grand Prix prize won.

‘Marque Deposee’ – A protected trademark.

Advertising Inscriptions Without any Particular Meaning

In the past, just as you will find today, manufacturers of cheap goods lacking any interesting or defining features would attempt to stand out from the rest using loud, attention grabbing inscriptions.

‘Qualite Superiore’ – Top quality (usually inscribed on cheap watches to help get them to sell). It has no technical meaning.

‘1/2 Chronometre’ – Semi-chronometer, fairly high-grade watch (most often this was a complete lie and the watch was of average quality at best or at worst just plain rubbish).

‘Precision’ – Extra high accuracy (without any measurable parameters it’s a completely useless estimation).

Features of the Movement

Inscriptions on the lid will usually refer to the details of the mechanisms and their features.

‘Patent Lever’ – A patented lever escapement.

‘Cylindre’ (Echappement a Cylindre) – Cylinder escapement type (usually unreliable).

‘Echappement Cylindre en Pierre’ – Ruby cylinder escapement.

‘Remontoir’ – a keyless watch, where the winding and setting of time is done via a winding crown (at one time this was an innovative system).

‘Ancre’ (Anker, Anchor, Lever) – A lever escapement (a good one).

‘Ancre Ligne Droite’, ‘Straight Line Lever’ – A lever escapement with the placement of axes in a straight line (a novelty for its time), a good reliable type of movement.

‘Levees Visibles’ – Pallet fork with open visible ruby pallets.

‘Double Plateau’ – Double roller lever escapement.

‘Nickel’ – Nickel (white) mainplate and bridges of movement.

‘Chatons’ – The mechanism includes chatons (insert-bushings with jewels).

‘Aiguiless’ (French), ‘Hands’ (English) – Designation of a hole for the key which sets the hands.

‘15 Rubis’ – 15 jewels in the movement.

‘Trous en Rubis’ (“holes with rubies”) – An early inscription type, back when the number of jewels in the movement were not counted and instead it was simply noted that there were jewels (meaning it was good).

‘Spiral Breguet’ – A balance spiral (hairspring) with an isochronous Breguet curb. This signature does not mean that it is Breguet watch.

‘Balancier Coupe’ – balance oscillator that has a special split for temperature compensation.

‘Balancier Compensateour’ – Temperature compensated balance.

‘Avance Retard’ (AR), ‘Fast Slow’ (FS), ‘Nach Vor’ (NV) – Faster / slower adjustment.

‘Brevet, Brevete, Depose, Patent <numerals> – Patent and patent number.

‘D.R.G.M.’ (Deutsches Reichs-Gebrauchs-Muster) – German state standard.

‘Alarm’ (Reveil) / Stop – The alarm is on/off.

‘Full Jewelled’ – jewels on all axes (at least 15 jewels).

‘Chronographe’ – Chronograph function (built-in stopwatch complication).

‘Quantieme’ – Calendar function.

‘Repetition a quarts’ – Quarter repeater function.

‘Repetition a quarts & minutes’ – Minute repeater function.

Pocket Watch Case Material Markings

Typically, the type of material of a pocket watch case is stamped on the inside of the lid. The inner dust cover can be made of cheap brass with light gilding, while outer covers are traditionally made of more expensive precious metal, or with thick gold leaf filling.

Or – Gold.

Cuivre – Brass.

Gold Plated, Gold Filled, Electrically Plated – Gold plating markings.

Guaranteed 10 years (15, 20) – Gold plating with a wear guarantee in years, corresponding to thickness in microns.

20 mikron – Thick 20-micron gold plating (German stamp).

Plaque Or 20-micron – 20-micron gold-plated.

Acier Garanti – Gun metal, black oxidised mild steel.

Acier Inox (Inoxydable), Everbrite – Stainless-steel.

Edelstahl Boden (German), Fond Acier Inox (French) – Stainless-steel case back only.

Métal Blanc Garanti – White nickel coin alloy, copper-nickel (cupronickel).

Silverode, Argentan – Argentan or nickel silver (also cupronickel, new silver) has long been known in China under the name pack-fong, which means white-copper; the French call it maillechort or argent d’Allemagne. In German it is known as Argentan or Neusilber. The material is a nickel, copper and zinc alloy, which got its name as well as its practical use due to its close resemblance to silver.

Warranted Coin Silver – Coin sterling silver.

Fine Silver – Silver 900.

The best way to improve your knowledge of pocket watches, their features, and values, is to study catalogues.

Because there is such diversity among antique pocket watches, the above markings will vary and may be found in different combinations.

Further Reading

How to read and decipher a monogram on a watch engraving